“There isn’t enough originality in Annabelle to issue a full on recommendation, but there certainly is enough substance to alert fans who have already made up their mind…”
Being that The Conjuring placed a considerable amount of marketing attention and trademarking towards an eerie-looking, porcelain doll but acknowledged the doll very little in the actual film, Annabelle, as film focusing on that film’s specific character, was bound to happen sooner or later, arriving in the form of a sequel or a prequel. The film assumes the later in the junior franchise’s chronological timeline, which, for now, is pretty easy to follow, taking place before the events concerning Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators we focused on in the first film.
For Annabelle, we follow John and Mia Gordon (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis), a newlywed couple expecting their first childhood and moving in to a pleasantly traditional home in 1967 America. As a celebration of their marital bond and their forthcoming child, John gifts Mia a rare porcelain doll by the name of Annabelle to add to Mia’s already extensive collection of dolls of the like. However, once the doll is brought into the home, a slew of strange events begin occurring. For starters, the couple are viciously attacked by two Satanic cultists, who injure both but don’t seem to do any damage to the couple’s unborn child, and soon enough, strange noises are heard all throughout the home and paranormal activity begins taking its course on the innocent couple.
It’s almost redundant to come out and admit upfront that Annabelle is a fairly derivative film, not so much from The Conjuring but from movies like Rosemary’s Baby. Scenes of Mia taking care of her daughter and trying to protect her from danger are so close to mirroring the events of Rosemary’s Baby that they are almost distracting in their similarities. In addition, one can’t ignore the familiar scare tactics the film attempts to employ, such as the eerie woman in white with unkempt black hair, creaking floor boards, an unsteady rocking chair, and more. What you’ve seen before is exactly what you see in Annabelle.
Having said that, and after saying this a dozen times, just because a film is familiar and incorporates elements we’ve took note of before doesn’t make it necessarily bad. For starters, director John R. Leonetti, who worked with director James Wan (a producer on Annabelle) on The Conjuring and Insidious, predicates much of the film on slowburn tension and gradually escalating mayhem in a way that efficiently tries to follow in Wan’s successful footsteps. Leonetti makes it so that, while familiar elements are abound, we at least see them through a lens of competent, chilling pacing, making some scares actually succeed rather than flounder.
Annabelle also finds itself more focused on a story than frightening occurrences, something that has made the Paranormal Activity franchise travel steadily downhill since its inception. Annabelle has a genuine interest in its characters, and writer Gary Dauberman succeeds at making their movements and reactions thoughtful and pragmatic rather than impulsive and illogical. To specify but also not deviate course to spoiler-territory, the characters don’t react to the paranormal activity with a sense of cloying idiocy.
There isn’t enough originality in Annabelle to issue a full on recommendation, but there certainly is enough substance to alert fans who have already made up their mind of whether or not they want to see the film that there is something here, and if the franchise progresses in a way that will continue to respect its characters and its mythology, there will continue to be substance where little can be found elsewhere.